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OUT THERE: Lola Akinmade

One of an occasional series introducing black travelers and their Web sites

SITE: lolakinmade.com

This Nigerian-born freelance writer/photographer has been to 40-odd countries so far, but the destination of her dreams is no country at all.

If you check out her collection of pics on Flickr, you’ll notice that this young woman jumps a lot, which befits someone who’s touched down on six continents before celebrating her 40th birthday.

We should all have that much spring in our step.

But ever since she was a school girl in her native Nigeria, Lola Akinmade has known exactly where she wanted to go in life, right down to the spot that she wants to stand on, and she can tell you with precision where that spot is — 90° N.

You and I know that as the North Pole.

“It truly was and is a childhood dream I had; born when I was in social studies class learning geography in high school (secondary school) back in Nigeria. I always told my friends and family that I will get to the North Pole someday even though, at that time, I was in Nigeria and had never seen snow.”

Now 32, it’s almost as if she’s been living her life as a trail slowly but surely headed toward the top of the world — and she’s already a lot closer to it than most of us:

“I was born and grew up in Nigeria, then moved over to the US in my teens, where I studied and worked for 15+ years as a GIS/IT developer. Now I’m currently based in Sweden where I work as a freelance writer and photographer, am pitifully trying to learn Swedish, and married to a wonderful man.”

In much the manner of Jabari Smith, who’s trying to win an online contest for a shot at hosting his own travel show, Lola is trying to blog her way to the Pole, one vote at a time.

She’s in the running in a contest for travel writers sponsored by Quark Expeditions. The winner goes with on a cruise by icebreaker to the North Pole.

And naturally, she’d love to have your vote.

With 40-some countries under her belt, she’s done a fair amount of traveling already. But while her love of travel hasn’t changed, her philosophy toward it has. No longer does she take her journeys with the attitude that (s)he who dies with the most visa stamps in their passport wins:

“I used to be a country counter, striving to mark every single country off some checklist,” she says. “But now, I’m traveling slower, integrating better, and truly making time to get beneath each place I travel through.

Travel is a transformative process that forcefully pulls you out of your box, lays the raw world out in front of you, and challenges you to make sense of it all in a way that keeps you craving more transformation.”

That approach has given her some eye-opening perspectives on how blacks/Africans/women are perceived in the world:

“My reception has been extremely mixed – from absolute acceptance to outright rejection – and here are links to a few articles I’ve penned about dealing with stereotypes when traveling:

Breaking Down the Staredown

Traveling With an Open Mind

Breaking Down Stereotypes While Traveling

I try to isolate each experience, break it down, and pull out the positive lessons from it.”

For all her mixed receptions, though, Lola found some things that her universal in her dealings with new places and strange people:

“I was surprised to find just how far a simple smile and positive disposition goes. People want and need to be acknowledged through eye contact and smiles, regardless of race or background. They want to know that you really care about their situation and lives, no matter how drastically different it may be. Many doors have opened up this way because we all naturally feed off energy, and negative/pessimistic outlooks on life tend to limit interaction.

“In addition to my Christian beliefs and faith, travel has taught me to be truly kind and empathetic. To be quick to share, to serve, to be grateful, and to be positive. “

As far as the contest goes, Lola says she’s got a serious shot at it. How serious? She may be only a few votes from actually winning her dream shot at freezing herself to the bone.

And she’d really like your help to get there.

But when it comes to the travels of Lola Akinmade, the North Pole may prove to be only a warm-up, so to speak:

“There’s so much more to see, do, and experience &dmash; from Mongolia to Mozambique, Russia to Rwanda, Jordan to Japan. Guess I’ve got a ton more traveling to do.”

To vote for Lola Akinmade to go to the North Pole, go to Lola Goes North.

Every vote counts, and she’s counting on yours — and your friends’!

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